The Big Shark from Maneater is Gaming’s Newest Feminist Icon

It takes a big shark to take big chunks out of the patriarchy.

No, I’m not joking. Maneater, the shark video game made by Tripwire Interactive out today, debuts the latest soon-to-be feminist icon in gaming. She won’t be the one that gets the accolades, the fame, or the endless think pieces on what her representation means for many people  — but she’s still out here, in the waters, doing the work that makes her deserving of the title.

By “she,” I naturally mean the shark. One of many in the world, but specifically the one you play as in Maneater. Almost immediately, the narrator of your aquatic journey (in other words, the man who has been relegated to a secondary, unseen status, making for a rare move in an RPG) identifies your gilled predator as a female shark. As a result, I immediately took on a new degree of interest in the game I was about to play. The shark is a symbol of power and dominance — of carnage and havoc. That the game was upfront about immediately identifying her as a female animal made me wonder if this was significant. Would there be some kind of commentary on power dynamics of any kind?

I was not disappointed, for I soon realized this is a coming of age story for a marine queen.

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Maneater isn’t just about being a predator; it’s about becoming one. Throughout the “ShaRkPG,” our heroine develops from a pup all the way to an elder. And since it’s an RPG, you’ll be able to customize her with various sets of teeth, features, and looks. She is ever-shifting, ever-evolving, and ever-transforming. She’s not a graceful goddess of the water, but a warrior with scars and mangled features. The shark is jagged around the edges both figuratively and literally — firmly in rejection of concepts like grace throughout her various stages and changes.

I know what you’re thinking: big deal, she’s literally a shark. But it’s not just about her; it’s about how the game frames her and her journey as she fulfills missions to become the most feared and respected predator in the deep blue sea.

An Evolutionary Icon

In order for the shark to develop from one age stage to the next, she has to reach grottoes in which she can make her official evolution. When I saw that the title for one of your earliest grotto quests is called “Third-Cave Feminism,” I guffawed and knew this was intentional. I knew I wasn’t playing as any old female shark; I was playing as an intersectional feminist female shark. I was playing as Miss Shark.

Miss Shark gladly plays the role she is given, too, executing her cheesy docuseries-given tasks with the power and precision that only one like she can utilize. Together, we pick quests like “Bank on It.” That one requires you to destroy an alligator set on dining on Port Clovis’s working poor. Then there’s “Beat a Dead Horse,” which is completed to memorialize the deaths of almost 150 horses who died drinking from the lake befouled by Port Colvis’s first settlers. “Birds of Passage,” requires you to eat 10 of the human tourists drunkenly harassing birds during the local celebration of the flamingos’ annual migration.

Her work to build a better society doesn’t end there, either. With a quest like “Take a Bite Out of Organized Crime,” she fights back at one of the most powerful factions of any society in the world: the mafia. By devouring their bodies, she lowers crime rates and saves many families suffering under their endless power and influence. Unless she kills those families, too. I suppose you can do that.

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A Shark for the People, Full of People

Miss Shark is also a devoted environmentalist. Throughout the game, you’ll be swimming around disgusting waters. Where crystalline blue waves should rise and overwhelm with their beautiful clarity and vibrancy, there is only a vile green sea of pollution — our pollution. For at any moment Miss Shark is swimming on the surface of the water, it’s impossible to ignore the skyscrapers that illuminate the darkness of the night sky; the buildings adorned with neon hues designed to attract and represent wealth. One quest line states that “while radiation levels here are still ‘dangerously unsafe,’ the nuclear plant is one of the city’s few landmarks of note.” And it’s signs from that plant which have been thrown into the water as trash, or to alert people of the toxic waste that has been dumped in the area. Humanity, in its search for technological progress and innovation, has a visibly harmful impact on life.

And there aren’t many ways through which Miss Shark can fight a system that will always be quicker, faster, smarter, and more powerful than her (as well as in possession of opposable thumbs). She is only one skill-progression based shark, after all. But sometimes all it takes to bring about some change is a single rebel. And that is who Miss Shark steps up to be with your help. In the wise words of Tidus, the protagonist of his own slightly bigger RPG, “This is my story.” This is her story. This is Miss Shark’s story.

And as Miss Shark frantically flops on the land, struggling for oxygen, regenerating her health and extending her life purely through a rabid consummation of the nearest appealing human bodies available for the taking, I understood why this is her story. While hearing their screams of terror, with a chorus of masculine voices rising vastly above the others in the crowd, I realized why this game is called MANeater, not HUMANeater.

This is a story about killing mankind, yes but — considering seven out of the 10 bounty hunters set on killing you are dudes — also about overthrowing men and, by extension, the patriarchy. The patriarchy that has bred capitalism and created a society in which sharks, not government officials, are doing more to protect the working class; that has given men power to colonize and murder those who refuse to bend to their every whim, with a shark left to the task of remembering the lives taken not by a basic physiological need to sustain oneself, but by the desire to achieve supremacy; that has enabled the powerful to feel safe in harassing, silencing, and violating the peace of the weak until a 2000 pound toothy missile grabs them between her teeth.

You Ain’t Gonna Swim Too Far

The hero we need isn’t always the one we deserve, of course, and it’s pointless to place all of our hopes onto one figure. But, if we sometimes can’t help but do that anyway as the world around us crumbles, there might be few powerful women we can trust as much as Miss Shark. She is imperfect and… abrasive about how she tries to achieve her goals, yes. But she started her work from a young age and becomes as powerful as she does on her own.

Now she is fearless, eager to attack the systems and humans in general, and adaptable to what is necessary for her to succeed. She is a force to be reckoned with, but never an elite! For she can always be killed by an animal more powerful than her. Although one could say she enjoys humans most, she is happy to eat catfish, alligators, and whales alike — never truly discriminating in what she prefers to consume. She faces off both human men and the apex predators that lurk the waters by herself, asserting her dominance and prowess as she develops through her consummation of those too weak to stop her. She is one of the people, and maybe the people need someone like her to deal with the politicians and billionaires murdering us without shame.

For Miss Shark is not one who “is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar,” as Daryl Hall & John Oates would describe. She doesn’t abide by the gender norms entrenched in the song: “Ooh, the beauty is there but a beast is in the heart.”

Miss Shark is a beast on the outside and in her heart. The only lines she would agree with? “Watch out boy she’ll chew you up / She’s deadly man, she could really rip your world apart.” And rip the world apart (or at least several hundred humans, alligators, and other living organisms), she does. She shows we’re ready to bring forth a new wave.

“Aren’t you tired of being nice? Don’t you just wanna go apeshit?” No, that’s outdated. It’s not powerful enough — not what we need. We’re leaving that one in 2019. Instead, for 2020, perhaps you should ask: “Aren’t you tired of being nice? Don’t you just wanna be a shark?”